Photo: Weld County Sheriff's Office; photo manipulation: A1F staff.
An inmate in a Weld County, Colo., prison filed a “red-flag” petition in February against the sheriff in charge of the facility, Steve Reams. The inmate claimed the deputies working at the prison were intimidating the inmates in their “residence” by carrying shotguns.
A judge immediately dismissed the inmate’s petition, but the flagged sheriff, who has been an outspoken opponent of the new law, said the incident further proves how problematic it is.
“I would argue the system failed because this inmate was able to exploit the legislation’s loose definition of a ‘household’ to levy the petition in the first place,” Sheriff Steve Reams (R) said in a news report.
Colorado’s red-flag law, called Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO), became effective Jan. 1, and allows members of a person’s family or household, as well as law enforcement, to petition a judge to temporarily remove a person’s firearm. The petitioner must indicate the reasons they believe the person is a threat to themselves or others, and indicate they believe the person to have access to a firearm. A judge must determine by a “preponderance of the evidence” whether these claims are likely, and issue a temporary ERPO if so. Only once the temporary ERPO has been issued is the respondent notified. They must immediately surrender any firearms, along with their concealed carry license if they have one. The surrender may be voluntary, or if law enforcement was involved in the petition, may involve a search of their home.
A hearing is held within 14 days after the issuance of a temporary ERPO to determine if it will be extended to 364 days. The red-flagged person must then prove by “clear and convincing evidence” that they are not a threat to themselves or others. It is notable that there is a higher burden of proof and that the respondent must attempt to prove a negative (in effect, that they are innocent). It is hard to imagine what possible evidence could be offered that would meet this standard and prove that someone is not a threat.
Sheriff Reams made national news after the red-flag law was proposed by stating that he would not enforce it and, in fact, would go to jail to protect his constituents’ Second Amendment rights if he deemed it necessary. Reams emphasized in interviews that other state laws are already in place to help in cases where someone might be a danger to themselves or others. Several other sheriffs in Colorado also opposed passing the ERPO law.
“I know that some people don’t agree with my view of [the ERPO law] and have told me that I may have lost their support,” Reams said in a Facebook post. “While I understand each person’s choice to disagree with me, my response to those individuals is this: I’m not comfortable giving up the fight for their constitutional rights in exchange for their vote/support.”